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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

London Road, National, Cottesloe Theatre

After a ridiculously successful initial run, 'London Road' has returned to the National's Cottesloe Theatre for a limited period. This original innovative drama is based on the horrific real life events of Autumn 2006, when five prostitutes were found dead in Ipswich. Surprisingly the piece grew out of an experimental workshop at the National Theatre in which unlikely collaborators were brought together. Writer Alecky Blythe interviewed those on the periphery of the case – residents of the area, and inhabitants on London Road (the road the murderer lived on), cameramen, and other press. He then used their words, transforming their speech into drama, a technique known as verbatim theatre.

We witness exactly how the events have affected a small segment of the community, the Neighbourhood Watch committee. They assemble regularly to discuss their feelings and actions and through them we hear about the updates in the case, most importantly if the murderer has been caught and convicted?

It is odd to think of a drama with such a subject as a musical, a light-hearted genre that you would assume would not suit such a sombre story. However the music makes the piece all the more powerful, adding a sensitivity to the topic and giving a poignant voice to these everyday people. The music is utterly stunning, a brave offering from composer and lyricist Adam Cork. Using the natural speech patterns, Cork creates a very affecting score that uses frequent repetition and banal words to sound more natural. The musical influences are broad, minimalist at times, jazz based in other passages. A small band provide a solid instrumental accompaniment in a little space above the stalls.

The cast do a marvellous job presenting eleven well-rounded, ‘normal’ central characters while also covering fifty-two other parts between them! It is a great team effort to pull off this ensemble piece, and no-one lets the side down, each and every actor excelled on the night I was attended. I was particularly impressed with Kate Fleetwood’s portrayal of Julie, the Events organiser who suggests the idea for ‘London Road in Bloom’ a flower growing competition that brings the group closer. She shows great depth and empathy as this hopeful woman. Claire Burt and Nicola Sloane are also fantastic both offering witty innuendo to the play. I was amazed by the secure musical performance, the solo and tutti singing are both faultless in a score that is filled with tricky harmonies and challenging melodic progressions.

Visually London Road is a joy, a simple layout that provides endless staging possibilities for director Rufus Norris. Aside from the hovering plant basket installation, there is one mesmerising scene when a white suited investigator weaves in and out of the stage stretching warning Police tape in zigzags trapping the characters.

Some may be offended by this frank piece of drama, but I'm sure most will be touched by how utterly human it is: a thought-provoking, startling musical play that illuminates how one awful event can dramatically affect and alter a normal community.

London Road continues until 27th August; if all seats are sold out it is worth calling on the day for standing tickets or cheaper day seats - details here.

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